The Surprising Ways the Royal Family Has Changed Since Queen Elizabeth II's Death

King Charles III's reign, Prince William and Kate Middleton's significant new roles, the family's ongoing rift with Harry and Meghan: Royal expert Sharon Carpenter broke it all down for E! News.

By Natalie Finn Sep 08, 2023 7:00 AMTags
Watch: Prince Louis & Royal Kids Steal the Show at King Charles' Parade

Despite having a grand ring to it, Accession Day can't help but be a solemn occasion for the person who ascended.

Queen Elizabeth II used to spend it privately at Sandringham, the royal residence where her father King George VI died in 1952, rendering his 25-year-old daughter the reigning monarch as soon as he'd drawn his last breath.   

And so King Charles III will spend Sept. 8 at Balmoral in Scotland, where his mother's historic seven-decade reign ended one year ago, automatically triggering the beginning of his.

"In marking the first anniversary of Her late Majesty's death and my Accession, we recall with great affection her long life, devoted service and all she meant to so many of us," Charles said in a statement. "I am deeply grateful, too, for the love and support that has been shown to my wife and myself during this year as we do our utmost to be of service to you all."

But, per tradition, he and his wife, Queen Camilla, will otherwise not be heard from as events to honor the late queen carry on around the United Kingdom.

Royal Family at Trooping the Colour 2023

For Charles, "it's going to be a time of reflection," royal expert Sharon Carpenter told E! News in an exclusive interview. "And it is really a bittersweet occasion. This job you've been preparing for your entire life, you don't actually get to fulfill your destiny until you lose a parent. So the greatest day of your life is most likely one of the saddest days of your life."

Taking the public reins for this tonally unique anniversary, Prince William and Kate Middleton are set to lead a memorial service at St. David's Cathedral in Wales.

The couple, who became Prince and Princess of Wales (as well as a slew of other titles) after William's father became king, have become more important than ever to the monarchy as the institution strives for relevance under its 74-year-old leader—who ranked fifth in the latest YouGov poll of most popular members of the royal family.

Still coming in at No. 1 was the late queen, followed by William, Kate and Charles' 73-year-old sister, Princess Anne, a reliable favorite because "she's never in the drama," Carpenter noted. "She's very solid."

Toby Melville - WPA Pool/Getty Images

But overall, the royal correspondent continued, a majority of people in the U.K. are "feeling good about Charles," who garnered a lot of respect for the way he stepped into his mother's "very large shoes" while simultaneously in mourning.

And, scandalous airings of the family's dirty laundry aside, Charles' first year as head of the Firm has gone about as well as possible, the man meeting the moment. A moment that is wildly different from the one his mother rose to meet 70 years beforehand.

From his first televised address as king last September, to the various stops around the U.K. he made in his mother's honor, to his widely applauded state visit to Germany in March (where he broke out the fluent German most people were surprised to hear him speak), Charles may not have entirely flipped his image as a stodgy old Englishman on its head. But he's injected a bit more feeling into a role that's historically been known for its tight-lipped stoicism.

Royal Family at King Charles III's Coronation Concert

Queen Elizabeth II was famously quoted as saying she needed to be seen to be believed. Charles, who was dinged by royal watchers over the years for being heard from too much on policy issues that were supposed to be separate from the crown, acknowledged when he was still the Prince of Wales that he'd have to rein it in, so to speak, once he reigned.

But while no-comments from the palace still rule the day, Charles is aware that he needs to be seen and heard as a human being more than anything.

Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage

"The queen was known for not showing any emotion—which worked, for her, for a good amount of time," Carpenter explained. "But right now we're in a time where people want someone who is more relatable across the board. And King Charles does get accused of being disconnected and not really knowing what's going on for the average person in the United Kingdom. But what we've seen from King Charles"—at the queen's funeral, at his coronation in May, etc.—"is emotion that's been really powerful."

Even losing his cool when a faulty pen leaked ink on his hand "makes him seem more relatable," Carpenter said. "People like that."

King Charles III's Coronation: Every Must-See Moment

While they were already fan-favorites, William and Kate also seem to be entering a new era of public warmth, willing to lean in for more hugs with well-wishers and—in a complete reversal of unwritten protocol—pose for selfies. (Which, as Meghan Markle quickly found out when she joined Prince Harry in the royal sphere six years ago, used to be a big no-no.)

Andrew Matthews-WPA Pool/Getty Images

William, who ahead of his 40th birthday last year sold magazines on a London street corner to benefit a local homeless charity, manned the phone at an Indian restaurant in Birmingham this past April, taking a reservation for two and apologizing to staff for possibly mangling the address for the would-be diners.

"He probably could have a role as a front-of-house manager," one of the owners noted in a video later posted online.

You know, if the whole royal thing doesn't work out, which at this point in time is not really an option for the man who's now first in line for the throne.

Andrew Matthews-WPA Pool/Getty Images

Kate and William's new lease on playfulness could simply be attributed to being under new management, "because King Charles is a little more casual with his approach," Carpenter said. "Maybe protocols are loosening up."

Or, she added, it could be because "William and Kate want to show that the way they have been portrayed by Harry and Meghan—as sort of cool and a bit cold—they want to show, 'No, we're warm! What are you talking about, we're warm.'" 

At any temperature, William and Kate—and their kids, second-in-line Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5—are the future of the monarchy. And, while it was well known that Charles envisioned presiding over a streamlined (i.e. less costly) institution with fewer members of the family considered full-time working royals, once upon a time it was assumed that Harry and Meghan would be part of that structure.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

For a litany of well-parsed reasons, that didn't work out, so now the onus is really on William and Kate, even more so than it already would have been.

While they spent a fairly quiet summer with their children, their strategic visibility—such as Charlotte joining her parents and George in the royal box at Wimbledon for the first time—are "one of the ways that they are winning over younger people," Carpenter said. "The kids are so adorable, and having them out there in the limelight much more than they used to—still being very protective, however—it's something that charms [those who are anti- or disinterested] into feeling better about the monarchy."

Prince William & Kate Middleton Bring Kids to Air Show

That public vs. private life is still "a juggling act" for Kate and William, she continued. "They want to make sure their kids have as normal a life as possible but they also need to respect what their roles are and understand the importance and history of the monarchy. So, slowly introducing them into the public eye—though George, specifically, since he is the future king—it's just a balance."  

And rest assured, there were still critics who didn't think the Wales family was seen enough this past summer after Charles' first Trooping the Colour in June (when the monarch's birthday is celebrated, never mind that Charles was born in November and his mother in April). But with the children now back in school, all three attending Lambrook in Berkshire for the second year, William and Kate are about to be much more out there once again, starting with the Sept. 8 service in Wales.  

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Harry, meanwhile, arrived in London to attend the WellChild Awards (the organization being one of his few remaining patronages) on Sept. 7, but it was unclear whether he'd be seeing any family—or where he'd even stay, since he and Meghan moved out of Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, at the king's request—before traveling to Germany for the start of the Invictus Games on Sept. 9.

Meghan, who was with Harry for the awards when the queen died last year and last spent time with the royal family at the funeral, was reportedly planning to join him in Düsseldorf, but the Daily Express reported Thursday that her name had been taken off the schedule.

"The royals are kind of phasing Harry and Meghan out," Carpenter observed, noting the removal of Harry's HRH title from the royal website, as well as the lack of an invitation to him and Meghan for Trooping the Colour or the family's annual summer holiday at Balmoral. (Not to mention his hi-and-goodbye appearance at Charles' coronation, during which he and William didn't interact at all, and he was notably absent from the Buckingham Palace balcony from the big family photo op afterward.)

William & Kate Reunite With Harry & Meghan After Queen's Death

After the year started off so explosively with the release of Harry's memoir Spare and all the attendant publicity, Charles "wants people to focus on what's important at the end of the day, to them," Carpenter explained, "which is the work of the royals and what the crown stands for, and how the crown is here to serve the people."

Though many eyes were on Harry's third-row vantage point as his father was crowned, those eyes were also thoroughly trained on Prince George—who served as a Page of Honor and at 9 was the youngest future king to ever take part in a predecessor's coronation—the already-charismatic Princess Charlotte and face-maker extraordinaire Prince Louis. And even though a high-fashion moment was expected, Kate had jaws dropping in her regal robe and glittering Alexander McQueen headpiece—which couldn't have been more by design.

"When you looked at William and Kate at the coronation, you said to yourself, 'Okay, I see the future king. I see the future queen,'" Carpenter said. "That is what they are displaying right now, that we are ready for this role."

Photo by Yui Mok - Pool/Getty Images

And the ability to translate those positive vibes to the people is absolutely crucial to the health of the monarchy. 

"It continues to be a period of transition because we're still so early into King Charles' reign," Carpenter said. Being on the throne anywhere nearly as long as his mother is an "impossibility," she continued, "but he has a good ways to go. We'll see how well he does, but right now, he is proving himself to be a solid monarch."

Though Accession Day is a time to focus on the royals, for the most part, people are too occupied with daily life to pay the family much mind—so long as they aren't screwing up. 

Charles had so far done "a good job showing that the monarchy does stand for the way society looks these days in Britain," Carpenter noted. "As a woman of color growing up in the U.K., every royal event that I would see on television was very whitewashed. So it was pretty incredible to see people of different races, different faiths, all ages" at his coronation, "and we're going to continue to see that."

But though the family may be entering a new era of (extremely relative) openness, Carpenter succinctly summed up Charles' overarching message: "I am a monarch that represents modern day society and we are relevant. And the future looks bright with Prince William, the Princess of Wales and Prince George—so you want to keep us around."

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